Studio Diary 2012
KUOLEMANLAAKSO DEBUT ALBUM SESSIONS
Woodshed Studio, Germany
Laakso, guitar & keys
V. Santura, production & engineering
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
January 31st, 2012
The alarm clock rings at 7:03. I went to bed around 2 am, and feel like a zombie on tranquilizers. I take a quick shower, finish packing and bid my wife and son farewell as they rush to the day care center.
It’s -32 °C outside. Tiera was supposed to pick me up, and I wonder if his car can handle such malicious frost. As it turns out, the engine had had trouble rolling, but the knight in not-so-shiny armour rings my doorbell at a little past 8 am.
We drive from Kuopio to Mäntsälä, where Tiera’s brother lives, because the car must have an option for heating the engine, when he gets back. We take a train from Mäntsälä to Helsinki, and head to Kouta’s place, 390 km from Kuopio. In a few minutes Usva arrives, so the whole gang is set to go.
None of us has a flight case for the guitars or the bass, so the only option is to try to take the instruments on board as carry-on luggage. We try to minimize the hassle, and pack everything else on the suitcases that go inside the belly of the beast.
As it turns out, the flight from Helsinki to Amsterdam is fully booked, and the person at the check-in desk says that we might have a hard time trying to get the guitars on board. It’s now up to the flight staff.
After negotiating briefly with the flight attendants, one of them, a really, really nice woman, asks us not to worry as she will sort things out. After a few minutes we place the guitars in a “hidden” storage behind the first class passanger’s coats. Ten points and a thousand thank-you’s to the KLM Royal Dutch Airline’s flight attendant for customer service par excellent!
In Amsterdam we are not so lucky. As everyone clearly understands, a guitar is most likely to get shred to toothpicks if it’s placed under heavy luggage, and be thrown around by the baggage handlers. We manage to place Usva’s bass on the overhead cabin on top of us, but as Kouta heads to pick up our guitars from in front of the pilot’s cabin, the flight attendant informs him that our guitars are already on their way down to the baggage area. Fuck!
I get so pissed off that I start self-medicating with beer and red wine. And so do the rest of the guys. After a while, all the troubles seem so far away.
Kouta manages to convince the by-the-book flight attendant, that we MUST get the guitars right away, when the flight arrives to Munchen. And we do – and the guitars are in one piece! Thank you very much, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines!
Victor Santura of Triptykon and Dark Fortress fame comes to pick us up from the airport with his tiny car. After a few minutes of playing “luggage Tetris”, we head to McDonald’s to grab a bite. Kouta and I had met Victor once before, and he seemed to be the nicest, warmest and friendliest German on the face of the earth. Our first impression was correct.
With our stomacks full of junk, we unload the gear at Victor’s renowned Woodshed Studio. It’s about midnight. After a while Victor drives us to our pension, which turns out to be way better than we expected. Victor had booked us a two person room with two extra beds, but this one has two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, a gigantic bathroom, balcony and six beds! This has been a farm house of some sort, but the only thing reminding of it is the “brown odor” floating outside the building. All in all, the pension is a pleasent surprise, and it only costs less than 15 euros/night/person.
Loss of Power and the Sound of Thunder
February 1st, 2012
Victor came to pick us up at 11 am. We don’t have a particularly tight schedule with the recordings, so Victor suggested that we take our time to get the best possible drum sounds and takes on tape, as the drum tracks are the backbone of everything else. A wise decision.
As we were just about to start recording, the electricity went out with no apparent reason. The fuses were alright, but everything just shut down. Never before has this happened at this studio before. After about a half hour or so, the power came back on. There had been some problems with the electricity network of the area, but fortunately it didn’t consume too much of our time or make us go berserk, as it was sunny outside.
Tiera had brought his own snare and cymbals, but obviously not the rest of his set. Most of the toms had already a bombastic sound, as the drummer of Dark Fortress had recently tuned them. After some hours of sweating Tiera and Victor had the set up and running. The snare sound was the hardest to get right, but the sound of the set just blew me on my hairy ass.
The nearest grocery store is about 10 kilometres from the studio. We purchased a lot of good food, wine and beer, and as Tiera and Victor nailed the first track “Minä elän” on tape, and Kouta was busy fine-tuning his axe, me and Usva took care of the cooking.
Recording an album can get boring from time to time, so it’s important to have stuff to do. Victor has a foosball table and a Super Nintendo at the studio! I challenge you to top that.
Instead of going to details about how I whipped Usva’s as three times at foosball and lost only once, maybe I should mention something about the recording method we used. We had demos of most of the tracks we are going to be recording. Victor had laid down a structure map for each of the songs beforehand, but as some of the arrangements had been improved and changed, we went through the structures together.
As we were doing that, he made markers on the riff or part change positions. He uses Cubase software. We recorded a guide track for the first song together live with the whole band. Never in my life has my guitar sound sounded better – and this was just a demo take with a presetting! Needless to say, the drums sounded like World War III, apocalyptic thunderstorm and the wrath of the Gods combined. The album will take no prisoners.
February 2nd, 2012
Victor picked us up again at 11 am. I went to bed at about 2 am, but the other guys stayed up until 5 am, drinking wine and world-famous German beer. Never the less, everyone was feeling good, except for Victor, who had been ill for a number of days. Fortunately he has been able to work and keep his spirit high.
We used the same method as yesterday with the markers and guidelines. The plan was to record demo guitars and bass, and final drum tracks for three songs, “Nostos & Algos”, “Etsin” and “Uljas uusi maailma”. We had made new arrangements on the first two, so they needed to be tested in a studio environment. They seemed to work well, so it wasn’t a big hassle.
Tiera is a fantastic drummer. Oops, did I just blurb that out loud?! Can’t wait for you to hear his work on this album.
Victor hasn’t commented on the arrangements that much so far, but in his opinion “Uljas uusi maailma” needed some revamping. As the songwriter, the structure of that particular song has troubled me as well. As we were running out of food and beverages, Usva and I borrowed Victor’s car and headed to the grocery store. I gave the guys free hands to experiment with the structure and arrangements.
When we came back, they had recorded a demo of the song with almost all the drum tracks. I only heard it once, but their ideas seemed to make sence. Gotta listen to it again today.
Victor had plans to go “pump iron”, as they say, so he dropped us of at our pension at about 8:30 pm. We had some wine and beer (surprise, surprise), and started editing video material from the sessions. We also composed a “pumping iron” kind of a track, which sounds like something out of an 80’s Jane Fonda workout video, as a tribute to Victor. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it…
The album will have eight songs on it, last of which is still in the works. I’ve written all the songs in solitude, but that one started picking up flesh on the bones at the rehearsals. The problem with the song is that it has too many good parts and melodies, and it’s a bitch of a task to choose the right ones to make the wholeness complete. The song differs quite much from the rest of the tracks, as it reminds me of “Fjara” by Sólstafir. With a Twin Peaks vibe, of course.
Nailing the Old Lady
February 3rd, 2012
Tiera started the day by nailing the rest of “Uljas uusi maailma”, or “old lady” as we tend to call it. It’s an inside joke, never mind. He had a severe hangover, and maybe it wasn’t the best idea to continue with “Ikiuni”, the fastest and most technical track on the album, but be as it may, he did a fantastic job.
After we had a delicious dinner provided by the masterchef Usva, Tiera was feeling much better, and he pounded away another track, which goes by the work name “Kuolemanlaakso”.
As I wrote earlier, the final track on the album, “Aurinko”, was only bits and pieces, when we arrived here. Our mission for the night was to finalize the structure and drink a lot of wine. Well, not in that order.
We listened to the parts and melodies a couple of times, made some new ones and captured them on hard-disk. So, we had the beginning of the song ready, a number of great parts and some melodies. Victor basically tore the song to pieces, moved the parts around and came up with a really cool structure in a half hour or less. After some minor revamping the structure turned out to be very interesting, sailing from mood to mood, from ultra brutal to tragically beautiful. “Aurinko” might actually be my favourite track of the album, at least at this point.
We were feeling cheerful after the structure came out great – and from red wine, of course. Victor invited us to stay at the studio, and do a bit of celebrating. We listened to the latest album by his band Dark Fortress, which none of us had heard too much before. As the biggest Twin Peaks fan in the world, it was an absolute pleasure to hear their version of “Sycamore Trees”. And to tell you the truth, the whole album sounded really, really good. Gotta pick up a copy.
We also listened to an album by Blotted Science for which Victor had recorded the drums for. If you think that you’ve heard everything as far as technical metal is concerned, you don’t know shit about fuck if you haven’t listened to “The Animation of Entomology” (2011). It’s hands down the craziest shit I’ve ever heard.
We also had a few matches of foosball. The guys in the band haven’t played it that much, and Victor is, as his name suggests, the ultimate foosball champion. He beat me ten to zero. What a bummer.
Victor drove us to the pension some time at night. The guys had gone a bit mental at the grocery store as they had bought nine (9) bottles of wine and six (6) bottles of beer. As it turned out, the amount wasn’t over exaggerated compared to our consumption – even though we had a few bottles left from the previous night…
An Evil Petting Zoo
February 4th, 2012
Tiera finished his task today by doing the drums for the last track, “Aurinko”. He even agreed to do some rim strokes, which he utterly hates. It required a bit of negotiating and manipulation skills…
We decided to record the rhythm guitars before the bass, because the songs have quite a bit of string-bending and gimmicks in them. Without the bass tracks Kouta could do his thing more freely. Victor and Kouta found an absolutely crushing guitar sound really fast.
Kouta nailed “Minä elän” and “Nostos & Algos” on hard disc. His playing was, as usual, razor-sharp and precise. He had doubts about someone else recording his parts, as he is a trained and experienced studio engineer himself, and has a tendency to “use colorful language” and “raise his voice a wee bit” from time to time between not-so-good takes, but everything went super smoothly with Victor. He has a sharp eye for studio psychology, which is one of the most underrated but yet most crucial parts of producing an album.
I personally think that it’s possible to make a good album in a neutral mode, but if you’re frustrated or pissed off at yourself or the guy that’s recording you, the final result will sound like crap, and the artist will probably hate it too. In a nutshell: The more comfortable you feel, the better you’ll do. This is of course individual, but it’s something Victor is really good at: he brings out the best in us. I honestly believe that can be heard on the album.
Nevertheless, we are also progressing on Super Mario World. The enemy must be destroyed.
February 5th, 2012
My son’s birthday. I feel like shit for missing the party, but at least he’s always with me in spirit. Sorry, little dude!
As usual, we drove to Victor’s at eleven. He came to answer the door, and passed on the worst news of the day: it has been so cold in the last few days that the water has frozen in the pipes. What does this mean in practise? No shower, no washing dishes, no doing laundry, no making coffee or flushing the toilet. Nice…
The agenda for the day was to record the rest of Kouta’s rhythm guitar parts. Me and Tiera concentrated mainly on saving the princess in Super Mario World – which we did by the end of the day!
Kouta executed his parts on all the tracks except “Kuolemanlaakso” (working title), which we’ve never rehearsed as a group before. He asked half jokingly if Victor would like to play his share on the song, and Victor responded with a wide ‘yes’.
I had already started having a few German lagers in my offspring’s honor (he is actually born on the same day as H.R. Giger at 13:49 pm, there’s some “Triptykon” references for ya), and was feeling like a million bucks. If someone had told me a year ago, that I’d be teaching V. Santura of Triptykon how to play my own riffs in the same studio where Eparistera Daimones (2010) was recorded, I would have taken it as a bad joke. Well, as they say, life imitates art…
I’m not going to go into details at this point, but Victor’s style of playing is unlike I’ve ever seen at a close distance. He brought so much new life, darkness and energy in the song, that it turned out as one of the band’s mutual favorites. Victor also played the intro on “Uljas uusi maailma”. As he was recording his parts, I sat behind him at the control room, and got pretty much wasted on red wine and beer… A colorful end to a colorful day.
A Day Off in Landshut
February 6th, 2012
Once we got back at the pension at around midnight last night, I went straight to bed, but the other guys made a gray mishmash of all the stuff they found from the cabinets. I believe the gourmet dinner consisted of tomato soup, mashed potato powder, red wine and a shitload of fist-crushed garlic. They had filmed “a making of documentary”, which could pop up somewhere in the future. Or not. Well, rather that clip than the one they filmed of drunk-ass me at the studio…
We had decided to have a day off, because everybody was getting exhausted, especially Victor. We drove down to Landshut, the nearest city around. It has an interesting history, which Victor briefed us about. To put it short, it’s a nice little medieval city, which was founded in 1204. Check this and this out, if you want to learn more.
We picked up some acoustic guitar strings, and as Victor continued to pump some iron, the band headed for some tasty and cheap döner kebab. Next stop was a game shop: I bought a Super Nintendo and Super Mario World, yay! Now the heroic quest will never stop.
Our plan was just to hang around the centrum, check out some nice buildings and see if we could find some stuff to bring back home, and that’s what we did. After Victor got back, we went to a really nice Italian restaurant and had a wicked dinner. One of the waiters had an over-grown David Hasselhoff style perm, which he had tied up on pony tail, which we found rather amusing… Nevertheless, he was super nice, and everybody had a great time.
A fine day for battery-charging and coping with a severe hang-over.
Lost in the countryside
February 7th, 2012
I had to wake up at six am, and drop Tiera off to the Munich airport, which was easy to find. The way back, however, was not. Victor lives in a tiny settlement, which doesn’t have as many signs pointing the way as the airport. After taking three wrong exits, and stopping by to inquire about directions at a gas station, I finally found the way.
When I got back, the guys were still sleeping like wee babies. Man, was I pissed off…
It was Usva’s turn to work his magic on tape today. Victor came up with a killer sound in no time, as usual. Usva pounded away on Minä Elän and Nostos & Algos. He actually played parts of the latter one with his dreadlocks! Rastaman vibrations, yeah.
Celebration of the Lizard
February 8th, 2012
Usva’s birthday. He was in a cheerful mood, and was excited about the way his bass tracks came out. “The best birthday gift ever”, I recall him saying. That’s about everything I remember from that day. There might have been some partying involved as the day darkened, and the owls flew over the night sky.
Get on My Horse
February 9th, 2012
Usva finished his low tone thundering today. I was anxious to start my guitar parts, and it seemed to take forever before I could actually start playing. The reason for the delay was a good one: some of the bass parts needed re-arranging. As Usva and Victor were a couple of busy bees in the recording room, Kouta and I concentrated on rescuing the Princess once again as Mario and Luigi.
It was rather late, when we started recording my parts, so I only did one song: Etsin.
February 10th, 2012
The last day of recording. Victor took off in the morning, because the water wasn’t running again, and he needed to get some electronic gear to fix the problem. So, he handed the engineers chair to Kouta.
As it turned out, most of the songs didn’t require more rhythm guitar parts. For once, I had really practiced before going into the studio, so I felt very frustrated and pissed off. I was really looking forward to playing these riffs I had been working on for a year or two, but as it turned out, my task was just to play the leads. Which I hate. There was only one thing to do: swallow my pride, and jump on the horse.
Everything I played sounded like shit, and we were running out of time minute by minute. After a couple of hours, and Nostos & Algos and Ikiuni, Victor came back and took the lead. He immediately saw that I felt uncomfortable and worried about the situation. So, being a great producer and master in studio psychology, he told me to go and play some Nintendo.
He set up his Peavey 6150’s and two Marshall stacks, and told me to drag my ass in the recording room. They were loud. Super loud. When I hit the first chord, the wall of sound shook my very core. Now, this is what I’m talking about! The natural feedback of the leads blew me away.
My spirit was lifted from rock bottom to sky high. Recording the leads turned out to be one of the highlights of my musical career. The feeling of sheer power, the atmosphere, the sound… Man, o’, man.
As we were doing my parts, Victor’s neighbor phoned him up, as he had heard that a dude in his area, meaning Victor, owns a studio, and he wanted to come and check it out. He was rather funny looking with his hair up like Sibelius’ and old, worn down sweat pants hanging low. He was actually really nice, and he wanted to share his life story with us. On the last day of recording, with a skin-tight schedule.
Victor kindly asked him a number of times, if he could come back another day, since we were in a hurry. Ultimately we pretty much had to tell him to take a hike, which kind of sucked, because he was such a sad character who only wanted somebody to talk to. He even brought a bottle of sparkling wine to share with us. But, as we were running out of time with a number of tracks to go, there were no other options.
We finished my parts at about 2 am. That was that, the instruments for the album, excluding keyboards, were in the bag. Victor made a quick mix of the songs, and we listened to them and banged our heads in joy (half asleep) until 3 am. When we got to our pension, we had about 2-3 hours time to sleep before leaving for the airport.
The Homecoming Queens
February 11th, 2012
After a few glances of sleep, we picked up Victor from the studio, and drove to the airport. Packing all the gear into his tiny Ford Fiesta was not as hard as the previous package Tetris we did at the Munich airport, because Tiera had already left a couple of days ago. And off we went.
It was truly a great trip, and hands down one of the coolest experiences of my life. And what I gather, the other guys seem to share my opinion.
I’m writing this on August 12th, 2012. The album is completely finished, and it sounds absolutely crushing. Can’t wait for people to hear it. We are currently working on the cover artwork and negotiating for a deal with a killer label. So, things look radiantly bright in this gloomy world of ours. If things go as planned, the album will hit the stores very soon. Hope to see you on tour!
Until the light takes us,
P.S. Oh yeah, forgot to mention: our singer is a certain Mikko Kotamäki of Swallow the Sun and Barren Earth fame…